Macmillan | Designing the future of cancer support


Humanly worked with Macmillan Cancer Support for 14 months to envision and prototype future services for people living with cancer, focusing on designing for the year 2022.  

Facing a growing cancer population and a profound shift in how people access information and support, Macmillan recognised the need for agile, tailored and sustainable services that reflected these changes.

Humanly applied the human-centred design process in a highly collaborative project, working closely with the Macmillan Innovation team and involving over 300 people directly affected by cancer or active in the provision of support.


The Process


Humanly began by developing 3 personas based on ethnographic research, incorporating the many factors which define and shape individual cancer experience today.  We worked closely with key Macmillan stakeholders to ensure these accurately reflected real-life user journeys.  

Humanly also mapped Macmillan’s services to identify gaps and ‘pain points’ where the existing offer fell short of providing the best possible experience for users.                                           

Humanly led a co-creation process that included 13 workshops with over 180 people living with cancer, healthcare professionals, Macmillan staff and volunteers.  The themes and opportunity areas that emerged from this process shaped potential design directions, and 10 ideas were shortlisted for prototyping.           


Over a 6-month period, 27 prototypes were designed, created and tested with over 70 people living with cancer in 12 locations around the UK.

Humanly developed low, mid and high fidelity prototypes of both digital and non-digital services, including ‘live’ prototypes in which services were delivered manually or participants were required to do things over a period of time using existing technology.

To refine the resulting service concepts into fully developed propositions, Humanly assessed them against desirability for target users, viability for Macmillan as an organisation, and tech feasibility.  Informed by our findings and taking Macmillan’s strategy and wider evidence into account, we chose to focus on designing for working age people - a group under-served by existing cancer support and services.

3 final propositions were developed, 2 of which were immediately deliverable and 1 which envisioned a service for the future.


The Outcomes


Humanly designed and prototyped service propositions that align the charity’s priorities with the future needs of people living with cancer, focusing on tailored, flexible support enabled by new technology.


A remote coaching service: Humanly designed a service which was tested at a high fidelity over 6 months by pairing 3 people living with cancer with 3 coaches.  This demonstrated clear and transformational outcomes: participants reported an increased sense of control over their lives, greater resilience and a sense of progress towards their individual goals.

A digital self-management tool: Humanly designed a product that empowers people living with cancer by creating ‘projects’ around things they want to achieve, learn about or prepare for.  9 rounds of iteration led to the development of a final high fidelity prototype. The tool equips people to access bitesize, tailored information and to record their plans and progress at any time, anywhere.

An AI companion: This exciting concept emerged from an exploration of the use of AI to deliver emotional support in mental health services, which led Humanly to design our own concept tailored to cancer support.  The AI companion positively impacted the lives of participants living with cancer, providing a ‘space’ to express their feelings, experiences, hopes and fears.

People living with cancer were meaningfully involved with Humanly in co-creating services for future cancer support.


Humanly’s rigorous approach and innovative methodology empowered people living with cancer to advocate for the support and services they need, via active participation in idea generation, iterative testing, and the development of tailored solutions.

Providing fully developed propositions and implementation guidelines, Humanly worked with Macmillan to integrate these into their workstreams.


Humanly supported implementation of the remote coaching service - now being piloted by Macmillan - by developing a pilot framework, Theory of Change and evaluation tools.

Detailed guidelines were produced for the digital self-management tool, and the core recommendations have now been integrated into Macmillan’s digital transformation programme.

A digital prototype and concept video were produced for the AI companion, alongside guidance on the value proposition and tech feasibility to inspire and inform future thinking.  This work has equipped the charity to better imagine and plan for a future in which their relationship with the people they serve will be transformed by technology.


The Impact


Humanly employed a highly collaborative approach to the project, building innovation capacity across the organisation by inviting stakeholders into the design process and encouraging them to challenge assumptions, test hypotheses and prototype early.  This represented a powerful shift in mindset, and Humanly is proud to have supported Macmillan in embedding new methodologies in the design and delivery of future support for people living with cancer. 

‘Humanly did a tremendous job guiding the charity through the design process, clearly demonstrating value and rigour from the effective application of the methodology, and ensuring that the voices of people affected by a diagnosis of cancer were at the core of the development and testing of ideas. The Humanly team were a joy to work with, always cognisant of the culture of the charity whilst driving the process at pace. The outcome of their work is now part of the future strategy for Macmillan.’

Allan Cowie, Director of Quality and Impact at Macmillan Cancer Support 

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